Dry Tortugas, USA
December 22, 2008
N 24 37'29.1", W 082 52'15.5"
Greetings from the southernmost waters of the United States of America. We arrived safely after a 49 hour trip from Isla Mujeres, Mexico and are now anchored in the Dry Tortugas at Garden Key in the shadow of magnificent Fort Jefferson. (Look this up on Google and learn more!) During our approach to the anchorage Amy spontaneously began jumping up and down chanting, "U.S.A., U.S.A." and Marshall kept saying "Yeah! They speak English here."
It appears we picked our weather window well as we only experienced one brief episode of the "washing machine" effect of the gulf and even that was mild and short lived. We had the wind and waves on our nose the entire way forcing us to motor sail all but a couple hours of the trip. Not to worry however, as the light winds and small seas made for a pleasant ride aboard Mima. Even though we didn't get to enjoy the serenity of true sailing, Susan had always said that she would literally pay for this kind of crossing of the Gulf ahead of time versus potentially having a really rough ride like so many we had heard about from other people.
Marshall started the trip feeling a little "off" and ended up throwing up 4 times over the first 24 hours. He never complained once and always commented that beside the bad taste throwing up wasn't so bad because afterwards you feel better. Amy on the other hand could hang upside down eating sauerkraut through a hurricane and never get sick. I have told her it appears her stomach was made to be at sea. Who knows maybe she will sail again someday.
Enroute we were graced by the presence of a giant sea turtle. We only got to see it for a brief time but the immense size of this archaic leviathan was something to behold. We also had our best fishing day yet. The best fishing was within30 miles of Isla Mujeres and we hooked 8 Tuna and 1 Mackerel as well as what Marshall calls a few "no see-ums." Day two was not as productive as we only caught 2 Tuna and 1 King Mackerel. The King Mackerel was caught as we were pulling into Fort Jefferson and is our largest fish yet at 45 inches in length and weighing in over 25 pounds. We handed out generous portions to our cruising buddies on s/v Side by Side, to another boat in the anchorage and tried to give some to the park ranger but evidently they cannot take gifts. That is a lousy commentary on the times is it not. Oh well more for us and we have already invited new friends on s/v Summer Wind over tonight for grilled Mackerel medallions marinated in a sweet chili soy marinade. I just wish the park rangers could join us.
We spent the afternoon exploring the fort and then enjoying the sun on board. The other boat in the anchorage said they had a nurse shark hanging out under it so Sue, Amy and I decided to snorkel over and take a look. Imagine our surprise when we got there and discovered it was not a nurse shark but a giant Goliath Grouper. Not until swimming down next to it do you realize that the fish is as long as you are and the fish's girth is mammoth. I am no expert at guessing fish weight but if I weigh 165 pounds this fish was easily over 200 pounds. He was not too concerned by our presence, why should he be, and allowed us to view him quite closely. What a thrill and this is easily the largest fish we have ever seen in the wild. The day before they said there were four of these so called nurse sharks under the boat and we are hoping they all return tomorrow.
While I was preparing some of our tuna for dinner, seared with a black sesame seed and pepper crust, Marshall baited a hook with some scraps and quickly had a nice jack on the line. We let him go and as we were finishing dinner preparations Marshall yelled "shark" not that big of a deal really as we have had nurse sharks near the boat when we had scraps off fish, but when his second outburst was, "Hammerhead Shark" suffice it to say it cleared out the boat with all of us on deck and Amy and I scrambling to get our snorkel gear on. We jumped in the dinghy and stuck our heads in the water and Amy got to see a Hammerhead Shark underwater. Wow what a cool creature and one I have longed to see since our first trips to Baja in the early 90's. With all the excitement of the hammerhead we missed an evening check in with our friends the Johnsons on s/v Side by Side who had continued on to Florida to meet family for Christmas. We know they will forgive us and understand when they hear Amy and I were trying to see a Hammerhead Shark. Sorry Johnsons, the next fish dinner is on us and Sue says next time she will set a timer so as not to miss a check in. We hope that they made it safely to Ft. Meyers before the cold front hit full force and hope to see them while we are in Florida for a month or so.
Well, another boring couple of days at sea come to a close. After 49 hours of sailing we safely anchored in a beautiful spot. Having set a new daily fish record, caught our largest fish to date, seen our largest turtle so far, swam with our largest fish yet, and seen a Hammerhead Shark we savored our seared tuna, watched half a movie and went soundly to sleep.
We like this spot and think we may stay and celebrate Christmas here and then sail on to Florida. One of my fond memories from childhood is snorkeling with my dad and brothers on Christmas morning in Jamaica. Amy knows the story and asked if we could do the same. As you wake up Christmas morning to your family traditions we will be loading into the dinghy to snorkel and we will pause and say a prayer for each of you and your families.
Celebrate with us the birth of our savior well this Christmas,